Monday, March 19, 2012

A Husky-Sized Crater

Yesterday sucked.

It's never a good thing when Hubby wakes me up and says, "River is in a bad way." I got up swiftly and went to the front room, where my beloved husky, River, was whining and crying in pain, trying to get up and dragging her left front leg - unable to put any pressure on it. Up and down, up and down, unable to be consoled, drooling gallons of saliva and crying so hard.

I tossed on some clothes, shooed away the Elkhounds, who were hovering around her and trying to figure out what was wrong. Hubby had brought the truck around the front; I grabbed her cushion and he lifted her up and took her out front.

Luckily, the emergency vet is about 10 miles away. I did everything I could to keep her quiet. She was in such pain that she pooped in the truck.

Let's go back a week. Monday, she had a 4-minute seizure. She already was being treated for Cushing's disease and glaucoma, and was tolerating the treatment well. She was 12 1/2 years old, and for an old dog with one eye and arthritis, she could be pretty sprightly when she wanted to be.

We got to the vet and they diagnosed a brachial nerve issue (those are the nerves coming off your spinal cord and at your shoulder). They sedated her to calm her and then gave her pain meds. We were told that she could probably come home after a few hours; they'd call us.

We called them; as one of the few emergency vets in the area, and yesterday being Sunday, they were very busy. Finally, Hubby got through and the vet talked to him. Not good. We asked Kid #2 if he wanted to come with us, and he said he'd rather stay home with the elkhounds.

We got there. After 7 hours, 2 doses of pain Rx and an IV because of all the saliva she lost (we were worried about dehydration), she was unable to get up, and had no pain reflex in her front legs.

We petted her, we cried, and we made the final decision, after talking to the vet. We were taken to a room and they carried her in so we could say our last farewells, pet her, hug her and tell her that we loved her and would miss her so much. After one final ear rub (she loved to have her ears rubbed), she was gone.

The funny thing among the sadness was that the vet asked us if we wanted some of her fur to take with us. I was covered in River's fur. I literally had gotten in the cage with her and was holding her and surrounding her with as much love as I could give, in between the tears.

River came to our family by way of a breeder who was downsizing her kennel. The breeder herself had had a stroke, and was trying to find homes for many of her retired show dogs. We went up "just to look" because we had just two weeks prior lost my heart-dog Topaz, a black-and-silver husky. I wasn't ready, but our then-elkhound Gracie had gone into such a depression that she refused to leave my side and wouldn't eat. So, we thought, "well, we'll see." She was the dog we took home.

Aside from her striking good looks, she was well-mannered and very mellow. She and Gracie worked out the "who's top dog" thing (it was River - Gracie was a great second-banana). They lived together till Gracie was 14 and we lost her to bladder cancer. River was 4 when we got her.

(l-r) Gracie and River
She was a show dog; she walked on a leash with her head held high, when she stopped, she "stacked" and that tail was a wave of grace that just was a beacon to anyone who saw her. Even the "I'm not much on dogs" people were charmed by her personality and those huge "bluer-than-Paul-Newman" eyes of hers.

She had a wicked-fast tongue and could wash your face or slobber up your glasses faster than you thought. She ran into the house, bounced onto the couch and probably figured she was right where she should be. I remember taking her for walks and she absolutely would not poop on a leash. That was for the kennel.

Finally, she got it into her head that she didn't have to "be in the ring" -- and proved it by pooping, on-leash, in the middle of the street. She looked so proud of herself.

At age 8, she contracted glaucoma. It came on so suddenly that by the time we got her to the vet, she had lost sight in her right eye. We made the decision to have a procedure done on her eye which halted further damage but kept the eye intact. As you can see, at about age 10 or so, she finally did get on the couch!

(l-r) Quinn, River & Tippi
At age 9, she contracted Cushing's Disease, a disease of the adrenal glands. The treatment is essentially chemo. She was tolerating it well, aging gracefully as we brought in Tippi and Quinn, to add to our pack. She was still top dog and taught Quinn her "puppy manners." The Husky Paw of Pain was used till Quinn remembered that River was the boss, whether she liked it or not.

We noticed, in her 12th year, that she was slowing down. She slept more. She wanted shorter walks. She didn't want to play as much. But when given the opportunity to walk, she could keep up with the elkhounds and was often lead dog. And she loved her treats. Even with one eye, she could still catch a treat off her nose. That was her only trick; she was, after all, Queen of the House, and as such, wouldn't be bothered to shake hands or sit up or do any of those other things. She didn't even really bark or woo.

When she lost her sight, she was still energetic enough, and before we got Quinn, we were able to take River and Tippi to the dog park. Tippi knew instinctively to watch River's side. She guarded her from running into bushes and protected her from dogs coming up on her blind side. They had a good bond.

Watching Tippi's muscular running and then seeing River's graceful, powerful husky stride, you really saw the beauty of dogs in motion. That tail acted as a rudder, and signaled her joy at being able to run to her heart's content.

Surprisingly, she and Quinn also developed a bond. Quinn saw River as the mom she wanted. They snuggled together. Quinn liked to keep River in her sight, and when they slept, they often were next to each other or Quinn was touching River somewhere.  And the ever-dignified River seemed to have picked up some elkhound habits, such as going "topsy-turvy" every so often when she napped! Never let it be said that they all didn't learn from one another!

At different points, it was the duty of the dogs to be in our way. One of River's favorite things was to be in the walkway - whichever walkway we were planning to use! She got the idea quickly to just not move. It was easier. At her size, I didn't want her standing up while we were walking over her.  We have a La-Z-Boy couch, and the standard phrase was, "River's there" because she was long enough to bridge the gap between my knitting chair and the underside of the raised leg rest. That was probably her all-time-favorite spot to rest in. We always joked that her specialty as a watch dog was mainly as a tripping hazard!

After a while, we didn't take River to the park because she slowed down and quite frankly, there were some dogs whose owners didn't seem to socialize them, or who don't seem to care when their dogs are aggressive. With River being older, we didn't want to put her in a situation where an aggressive dog was in a position to corner her or cause her harm. She became a house-dog, and was doted upon by all of us.

When hubby would take the elkhounds on to the trail, he'd often toss a few treats at River; she knew they were coming. I regret that I didn't grab my camera last Tuesday... it was classic. A treat had slipped under the server, and there was River, head-and-shoulders under the server aiming to get that treat or tip over the furniture!

When people met her, the first thing they commented on were her eyes. The next thing was that she was so calm and friendly. Even my niece, one of those "I don't like big dogs" people, was captivated. She told me, "I want that dog." River just loved on her and made her feel as if she was the center of River's universe. And that's what she did to everyone. It was her duty to make you pet her. It was her joy to be adored. It was her job to make you notice her.

Monday's seizure was our first clue that our final decision would be sooner rather than later. She had some random trouble with her back legs during the week, which cleared itself up. But Sunday, it was not good. I have never heard her make that kind of noise and it went through me right to my heart.

Somehow, I had the number "14" in my head. Probably because that's how long Topaz lived, and we do take very good care of our dogs. But I guess River knew it was time. While I was in her crate at the vet's office, I got to smooch her on the nose before they sedated her. Actually, I'm not sure she knew, at that point, that I was even there. But I know.

I know that there's a husky-sized crater in our family. The elkhounds now know that she's not coming back. Tippi was very depressed this morning. Quinn watched Hubby take down River's crate, and then went and hid under my chair. It's very quiet in our house. For a dog who never made noise, River made an indelible impression and our family has changed for the better for having her a part of it. And we're now changed in sadness because she's no longer here.

Godspeed, River - I'll see you with Topaz and Gracie and we'll have a heck of a reunion!


chris said...

River was a beautiful dog, inside and out.

KnitWit said...

Thank you. She was a lovely example of a husky.